Bills aim to exclude undocumented students from in-state tuition


A pair of bills filed in the Texas House of Representatives seeks to strip undocumented students of eligibility for in-state tuition.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, and state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, have filed separate bills that would amend the qualifications for in-state tuition to exclude undocumented students. Since 2001, undocumented immigrants have qualified for in-state tuition if they received a high school diploma in Texas, lived in the state for at least three years upon high school graduation and signed an affidavit stating their intention to apply for permanent residence when eligible.

Larson’s bill would amend the current law to explicitly exclude “a person who is not authorized by federal law to be present in the United States” from state resident status.

Unlike Larson’s bill, Zedler’s does not explicitly exclude undocumented immigrants from in-state tuition, but strikes part of the current language that gives them the opportunity to qualify as state residents. Zedler did not immediately respond to phone requests for comments.

Larson said the issue at hand is one of fairness to students who are here legally.

“For the state to impose a mandate that you have to offer in-state tuition, I don’t think that’s fair to the folks going through the process legitimately from other countries and states that are trying to get into these universities and paying tuition rates three times higher than someone who is here illegally,” Larson said.

In 2012, tuition at UT for state residents was $9,792 compared to $33,060 for out-of-state students. According to PolitiFact Texas, 16,476 undocumented college students in Texas received in-state tuition in 2010 through the pathway outlined in the current law. Four percent of those students attended UT (612).

Denise Gilman, clinical law professor and co-director of the law school’s immigration clinic, said she disagrees with Larson’s assessment of the fairness of his proposed bill.

“To me the fairness question really is one of treating students who have grown up here their entire lives fairly,” Gilman said. “It seems fundamentally unfair to exclude promising students from the opportunity of a higher education at a state institution because of their immigration status rather than any concerns of their ties to the community or willingness to contribute back to this community.”

Larson said his objection is not to undocumented students attending college in Texas but to the financial advantage they receive by qualifying as state residents.

“There’s no prohibition for allowing folks to apply if they’re here undocumented, but I don’t think we need to give them the same rate as the kids that are here legally and have in-state residence requirements met,” Larson said.

Javier Huamani, mechanical engineering senior and historian for University Leadership Initiative, said most undocumented students rely on in-state tuition eligibility to attend college. ULI is a student group that advocates policies and programs that would benefit the undocumented community.

“If in-state tuition were repealed, the hopes and dreams of many of these students would be crushed and those who try to pay would be facing the danger of debt,” Huamani said.

In the 2011 legislative session, several similar bills were filed, but none made it out of the committee process.

Printed on Thursday, November 29, 2012 as: In-state tuition challenged for undocumented Texas students